December 23, 2020

Court: USDA Can Require Pasteurization or Treatment Of Almonds

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the authority to require California almond growers to pasteurize or chemically treat nuts to kill pathogens before they are sold, the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled. The ruling comes five years after Nick Korteoff, an organic California almond farmer, and others first filed suit saying the USDA had overstepped its bounds by requiring such a treatment.

GavelThe conflict began after a 2003 Salmonella outbreak linked to raw almonds sickened 29 people in 12 states.  Another outbreak had occurred two years earlier. In response to the outbreaks, the USDA secretary published in the Federal Register a rule proposing that almonds grown and sold domestically be pasteurized or treated with chemicals to prevent illness.

As one of California’s biggest crops, almonds challenge the notion that money doesn’t grown on trees.  The 2011 crop was valued at $3.8 billion, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, California Field Office. California produces about 80 percent of almonds sold worldwide and almost all the almonds sold domestically, according to the Almond Board of California.  So, what happens to California almonds basically affects almonds everywhere.

In addition to publishing the proposed sterilization process in the Federal Register, “every  California  almond producer was mailed a brochure that explained the proposed rule and encouraged producers to “take part in the public process.”  After receiving comments and modifying the proposal somewhat to address issues raised, the Secretary adopted the treatment rule as a “quality control” requirement under the Almond Order,” according to the court documents.  The “Almond Order  is the California Almond Marketing Order. All almond growers are subject to which California almond growers are subject to the order which provides for “quality control” of almonds.

The growers in the suit did not take part and therefore waived their claims to challenge the rule after the fact, the government argued.  In turn, the growers claimed that many almond growers had withdrawn their support of  the almond order in 1996.  If that was the case, the opinion read, growers had plenty of time to make that known and upheld the lower court’s opinion that the USDA has the authority to require such a rule.



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